The promises of 2015
In keeping with our political tradition, President Muhammadu Buhari must show the nation his report card on his, obviously and unarguably, sterling performances in office since the last time we heard from him on May 29, last year. Tomorrow, May 29, marks the sixth anniversary of his administration. In simple arithmetic, it works out as the first term of four years plus two years into the second and final term of four years.
Over and above the need for him to show us his report card, a report card written by him for himself, he must be thinking of a) the nation he inherited from President Goodluck Jonathan and b) the nation his successor would inherit from him in 2023. I suppose the president would therefore do two things: one, he would look back to what the country was in 2015 when he first received the thumbs up from the people to do what he promised to do – clean up the mess and set the country on a path of focused and sustained national development; two chain corruption and move the country from being potentially great to be actually great. It would require some honest admission that as in life so it is in governance – things do not always work according to plan.
The point about this is that given the human tendency, to which the president is not immune, a leader tends to see things differently from the led and persists in believing that he is right and everyone else is wrong.
The president has two years to go. He actually has one year of active governance. The last year would witness such jostling that governorship would be largely held in abeyance.
We have lived through six years of Nigeria under Buhari’s watch. The president’s men and the pundits would each do an assessment of those six years and come up with different takes on what the president has done or failed or done so badly that things have become much worse in the days and weeks ahead. There would be no prizes for these assessments in terms of the nation’s gains and losses; in terms of promises made and promises either fulfilled or otherwise; in terms of effective management of our national economy; in terms of the management of our diversities resulting in greater national unity and cohesion and in terms of our cocktail of security challenges.
Not being a pundit, I chose not to join the experts lest my ignorance exposes me. Instead, I chose to re-read the president’s first inaugural speech on May 29, 2015, and pick out some of the promises he made on some critical issues and the issues that bother us as a nation. My objective, and quite honourable at that, is to re-examine Buhari’s diagnosis of our national problems and ills and his promise to make the history – and see, if, under his watch, the checklist bears him out. I offer some brief but charitable comments only and leave you to be the judge.
The president said, “I belong to everybody and I belong to nobody.” The inherent promise in that was that he would be a Nigerian president, not a sectional president beholden to ethnic or religious interests and treat all Nigerians as equal owners of the country and its government. In other words, he would honestly manage our diversities and give each ethnic group a seat at the feeding trough in terms of appointments that fully reflect our rainbow collection. His biggest criticism comes from what he has made of this promise. A checklist of his appointments would provide the most telling evidence.
He said: “At home, we face enormous challenges. Insecurity, pervasive corruption, the hitherto unending and seemingly impossible fuel and power shortages are the immediate concerns. We are going to tackle them head-on. Nigerians will not regret that they have entrusted national responsibility to us. We must not succumb to hopelessness and defeatism. We can fix our problems.”
If the president’s men do a check-off list, they would find that insecurity challenge appears to have thoroughly overwhelmed the president; power shortages persist, despite some handsome investments in the power sector; fuel shortage was not a problem and it is not a problem but the problem is fuel subsidy. Buhari promised an immediate end to fuel subsidy but he has merely taken the people for granted and taken them round the bend because the fuel importing cartels have also caged him as they did his predecessors in office.
He said: “As far as the constitution allows me I will try to ensure that there is responsible and accountable governance at all levels of government in the country. For I will not have kept my own trust with the Nigerian people if I allow others to abuse theirs under my watch.”
Is there accountability by the state governors? The senate president, Ahmad Lawan, noted correctly that “…we have diminished the local government system. I think the time has come for us to take up the challenge and ensure that the local government system functions.” The state governors are responsible for the collapse of the third tier system of government with obvious implications for our local and national security and youth employment.
The president said: “With depleted foreign reserves, falling oil prices, leakages and debts the Nigerian economy is in deep trouble and will require careful management to bring it round (sic) and to tackle the immediate challenges confronting us, namely, Boko Haram, the Niger Delta situation, the power shortages and unemployment especially among young people.”
On my check-off list, all these problems have become intractable under Buhari’s watch. The economy has become progressively much worse and won Nigeria the hateful crown as the poverty capital of the world. It has gone into recession twice. More than 100 million Nigerians are classified as extremely poor. The management of the economy has been characterised by the easy resort to borrowing, foreign and domestic, to shore it up. Recent figures from the Debt Management Office show that between July 2015 and December 2020, the Buhari administration borrowed some N20 trillion. It is a heavyweight on an economy propped up on legs as strong as those of the mosquito – no insult intended on the mosquito.
Boko Haram has proved a tough nut for the government to crack. A check-off list here would show that Buhari has not quite met this big challenge. Youth unemployment is a sore point in the country. Yet, according to the president, “Unemployment, notably youth unemployment features strongly in our party’s manifesto.” The restiveness in the Niger Delta has abated but the problems that gave rise to it remain. Buhari promised “…invest heavily in the projects and programmes currently in place…” Someone should have a check-off list here.
He said: “For the longer term we have to improve the standard of our education.” In November 2017, the federal ministry of education organised a retreat on the state of our education. In his address, the president said that for us to get it right in the country, we must get our education right. So far, there is no evidence that we have gotten our education right. Primary school education, the foundation of education anywhere in the world, is either worse than Buhari met it or it is at best at the same level. One must admit, tongue in cheek, that the Buhari administration has added to our public universities and licensed more private universities. The last time someone checked, the number had risen to 193. Impressive. Numbers don’t lie; just what the Yoruba call ojoro. It is not progress; it is destructive of our educational system; and this, under Buhari’s watch.
He said: “The most immediate is Boko Haram. But we cannot claim to have defeated Boko Haram without rescuing the Chibok girls….” Not one Chibok girl has been rescued under Buhari’s watch. They have all become Muslim converts and mothers.
He said: “Boko Haram is not the only security issue bedevilling our country. The spate of kidnappings, armed robberies, herdsmen/farmer clashes, cattle rustlings all help to add to the general air of insecurity in the land. We are going to erect and maintain an efficient, disciplined people – and friendly and well-compensated security forces within an overall security architecture.” The president might have forgotten but the people are not likely to forget so soon the national outcry for rejigging the security architecture because it had failed to respond to our worsening security situation. The president ignored the outcry and watched the situation rapidly deteriorate right down to the bottom. We are in the woods still.
The president said: “It is a national shame that an economy of 180 million generates 4,000 MW, and distributes even less. Continuous tinkering with the structure of power supply and distribution and close to $20b expanded since 1999 have only brought darkness, frustration, misery and resignation among Nigerians. We will not allow this to go on.”
On my check-off list, the misery, frustration and darkness remain the lot of the people; Nigeria is still the largest international market for generators for businesses and homes.
Those were some of the promises of May 29, 2015. My brief comments reflect the status of those promises today.